Some members of the Washington County Board of Education have recently expressed concerns about the school system's aging middle schools, all seven of which opened during a 13-year stretch from 1967 to 1980.
Board member Donna Brightman, chairwoman of the board's Facilities Committee, said not only are the middle school buildings problematic due to their age, but because many of them are "open-space schools."
Open-space schools — built without walls surrounding classrooms so students can hear what's going on in nearby classes — were a trend during the 1970s.
"It's very disruptive. You can hear other teachers," Brightman said this week.
There's a lot of open space in the center of the buildings, with no windows or natural light, she said.
Five of the seven middle schools are "partially open," including Boonsboro, Clear Spring, E. Russell Hicks in Hagerstown's South End, Smithsburg and Springfield, which is in Williamsport, according to a school facilities fact sheet.
The other two middle schools, Northern Middle in Hagerstown's North End and Western Heights in Hagerstown's West End, have closed designs with an open media center.
It is difficult to retrofit an open-spaced school to create functional space because of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, Brightman and Board President Wayne Ridenour said.
"I think, as Mrs. Brightman has said, the middle schools are problematic," Ridenour said, according to a video of the Oct. 4 board meeting. "You know, the state sees 'em and says we've got this much space, we can have this many kids. We look at 'em and say, 'Figure that out for us, please, and we'll do it.' You know, middle schools, to me, are a huge issue. (I'm) not sure how we're going to resolve it, but we'll leave it up to the professionals to do."
The discussion was prompted by a presentation of the Comprehensive Maintenance Plan for Educational Facilities for fiscal 2012-13, which the board unanimously approved.
Board member Paul Bailey, who was director of middle schools from 1989 to 1996, noted during the board meeting that Smithsburg, Springfield and Western Heights middle schools all were rated at 55 percent for Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility.
School system officials said those schools have ramps that are too steep.
Bailey said that seems to be an issue that needs addressing, although it's probably difficult due to the buildings' structures.
"Again, it's one of those efforts that staff works on, particularly as we have a child that is in need of those special services," Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael told the board.
Speaking in general about the school system's schools during the Oct. 4 board meeting, Brightman said work done on school buildings can elevate them so they appear to be in good condition based on the criteria.
"But how long do you keep putting Band-Aids on a 50-year-old building or a 40-year-old building? That's a tough decision," Brightman said this week.